The Alan J. Perlis SCS Student Teaching Award
School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh PA 15213-3891
(412)268-8525 . (412)268-5576 (fax)

The 5 Great Realities...

Hunter A. Pitelka, 2011

I had the great pleasure, while at Carnegie Mellon, to have found a class that I really connected to and found a great passion in teaching. 15-213, Introduction to Computer Systems, was founded on the theme that "abstraction is great, but don't forget reality." On the first day of class, we introduce the 5 "Great Realities" of computer systems. Through teaching over many semesters, I've come to realize that the great realities are not just about computer systems, but apply to life as well.

The 5 "Great Realities"

Int's aren't Integers and Float's aren't Reals

Always question your surroundings. Don't passively accept that, just because somebody tells you something, it's true. Question the decisions of your leaders, and encourage your followers to question yours.

You've got to know Assembly

You need to understand the level below what you do. When you make a decision, your actions will affect more than just yourself. Think about how your actions will be interpreted and received by others. Knowing assembly helps you debug problems in C, and knowing how to do the work of your team will help you realize how your decisions impact them.

Memory Matters

There are three points in life when we are given a blank slate: when we are born, when we go to college, and when we graduate from college. More than anything, malloclab taught me that when we have the blank slate on the heap, we get to decide what gets written there, and how it gets interpreted. We get to decide what kind of person we are, and we get to decide how people view us. We're about to be handed that third blank slate, what will you be writing?

There's more to performance than asymptotic complexity

Life isn't all about your GPA, or how much you'll be making next year. It's about the trip. It's about what you actually do along the way, the experiences that you have, the friends you make, and the ones you lose. Being a TA has made college an amazing trip for me. My diploma and GPA don't say anything about the countless hours I spent banging my head against Autolab, coordinating AB Tech events, or spending time with friends. Those experiences have defined my college journey, not the diploma I am receiving at the end.

Computers do more than execute programs

And we do more than write them. An individual person is amazing; their abilities, their qualities, and even their negative attributes define who they are. I'm extremely grateful that being a Teaching Assistant has given me the opportunity to meet so many of these great people and to get to know them on a level that no professor gets to have. There are so many amazing people at this school who will go on to do great things with their lives, their story is so much more than the lab assignments and exams that plagued them through college.

15-213 was a very special course to me because although the topics are very technical, they really have deeper meanings. The specific topics we teach in the course really won't matter tomorrow, but problem solving and critical thinking skills that you learn will guide the rest of your life. Taking classes didn't teach me these lessons, but being a teacher and working with students taught me the 5 Great Realities of life.

Return to: SCS Student Awards